Complete shock reigned in the Baku Court of Appeals on November 18 when the prosecution announced no objections to the release of imprisoned blogger and youth activist Adnan Hajizade. But the announcement was no mistake. After serving 16 months on charges of hooliganism, Hajizade is now free from prison.
Twenty-seven-year-old Hajizade, a leader of the OL Youth Union, and fellow blogger and youth activist Emin Milli were imprisoned in 2009 after a scuffle in a Baku restaurant that followed the distribution of a video the pair had produced that mocked the government’s imports of donkeys. Hajizade received a two-year prison term; Milli was sentenced to two-and-a-half years.
The sentence, widely condemned by international media advocacy groups and Western governments, was seen as an attempt to silence criticism of the government. Among other issues, both men had a reputation for protests against corruption, restrictions on freedom of expression and the referendum to abolish presidential term limits.
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Khadija Ismayilova is a freelance reporter based in Baku.